The Blood of My Love


Author: Heidi Helppi – Third Place Senior Division 2022

My father is dead. My mother is dying. I’m supposed to become the next queen. I’ve understood that’s how it goes my whole life, when my parents die, I take over. But that’s not supposed to happen for years. I’m supposed to get married first, have a few kids and let my parents become grandparents. But I guess the universe had other plans. Well, the people had other plans. My dad’s throat was slit, my mother’s wrists slashed. How she’s alive is beyond me, she’d been left to drain out and die for the better half of the night. When the sun began to rise and Avenlie was waking up, the first thing they saw was the town square bathed in light gray blood.

My name is Charlotte Anderdale, and I am the crowned princess of Avenlie, a kingdom of judgmental blood.

It’s been two days since the attack and my mother is officially dead. She tried to hold on, but at 3 a.m. I was called into her room. I was sobbing so hard they had to drag me there. I don’t know why, but I felt that if I didn’t go to say goodbye, she wouldn’t die. She couldn’t. She lived for 16 hours after being drained of half of her blood. And now she is dead.

The older generation thought my parents were ruining tradition, letting me learn in real schools and not assigning me to marry into a neighboring kingdom. They thought we’d be punished for going against tradition and that our crops would stop growing. The younger generation thought we didn’t need a monarch. They didn’t want anyone to rule. I wonder which group decided to kill them, a good old sacrifice.

My mom’s death comes with lots of things, not just crushing sadness and a feeling of coldness in my very soul; it also comes with a coronation. Since there is now officially no monarch, I must become the queen. Ironic, isn’t it? Almost makes one think that’s not why someone would kill my parents. Everyone in the kingdom knew my dad changed the laws of the monarch months ago to make it, so I didn’t have to be married, so killing them would mean an automatic promotion for me. Whatever the reason they were killed, it’s too late to change it now.

We have six days to organize everything, but I have no interest in any of it. How could I be concerned with how I look, and who is invited, when I’m replacing my own parents? Thus, I know this week is going to slip past like the sun on a cloudy day. That’s something nice that I’ve noticed. Time doesn’t work correctly, it more so just happens. I don’t feel days passing or meals missed, they are simply gone. Like a forgotten memory, you know it happened, but there’s nothing left to remember.

It’s been two weeks since I last talked to you, and I’ve lost six pounds. The nurses are starting to worry about me and have started talking about an IV drip. This would take hours of my time, though, and since I was officially crowned last week, I don’t really have any extra. That’s right, I’m now queen. It was less of an event than I expected, which I was thankful for. The entire kingdom was there, of course, but there weren’t any extra visitors. And it happened quite quickly. I honestly haven’t quite processed it.

I walked down the grand hall in what could be a wedding dress, a long training white gown with streaks of red blood on the train, a nod to our ancestors. Avenlie is obsessed with tradition, remembering the ones that came before, always making sure we’re “worthy” of their sacrifice. The dress is beautiful nonetheless, made completely of silk, but I barely looked at it. The only thing I could see was my parents’ crowns, draped in the traditional black mesh, displayed on the sides of my waiting throne. I floated down the hall, caught in a ghost-like trance of reality, and accepted my role. And then it was over. The people danced and drank wine, but I sat with my parents’ crowns.

* * *

My parents have been dead for two months and I finally kept down a meal. Today is meant for more gown fittings. Like that’s right. My parents are six feet in the ground, and I’m playing dress-up. Sitting up from my bed, I look around, my hole of depression. Maids make it hard to be a slob, but I think it’s an important part of the grieving process. I need to be able to see the chaos. See my life falling apart, so I have an incentive to save it. So, I told them to stay out of my room. Actually, I screamed at them. Blind, scorching hot rage that had been left to bubble too long. Finally, cracking open and seeping onto my poor handmaid that came to make the bed. Nevertheless, I don’t think I’ll be seeing them any time soon.

The floor is cold when I step down onto the hardwood. The sun is just rising, and the sky is soft. Pinks blending into baby blue on the horizon of my kingdom. My kingdom. It still doesn’t feel real. My breakfast tray lies half-eaten on my bed, sunny side up eggs running onto cinnamon toast. I debate cleaning it up, but eventually lose the motivation and walk to the bathroom. I’ve been very angry lately, but my room has become my safe place. I think it has to do with the fact that I’m the only one that comes in here now. After kicking my maids off cleaning duty, I changed my lock to only let in myself. It feels nice to have something completely to myself when everything in my life is so public.

Running the hot water for a shower, I turn to the mirror. Bags under my eyes make them look bluer. My long brown hair no longer looks like silk but crumpled leaves. I’m definitely thinner. Sharper cheeks and sunken eyes. At least my skin looks good. It’s a light olive and has adopted a milky glow in the last few days. My skin looks okay, but everything else is in bad shape. That’s not good for our reputation. A sickly ruler means a weak government, which means takeovers would be easy. It’s time to start caring again. The green tiles of my bathroom mixed with the assortment of plants and flowers I keep on the walls create a peaceful environment. I slip off my silk sleeping dress and step under the stream of steaming water. It’s almost uncomfortably hot, but that’s just how I like it, a subtle bite on the skin. Bubbles and the sweet smell of pea flowers fill the muggy room, and I almost feel like humming. Today feels like a good day.

Changing into my day dress is harder without maids, so I’ve been wearing lighter gowns. Today’s dress is a soft green and ankle length. It cuts across my shoulders nicely to show off my collarbones, while also extenuating my thinning waist. It’s almost shimmery, a light swish of color and shine. Slipping on a pair of flats, I open the door and head downstairs. Sir Benard—formerly known as Ben to me—head of the royal guard and my lifelong sparring partner, catches my attention as I turn to the great hall.

“Your majesty, this is Dakota. He’s going to be your new personal guard.” I almost rolled my eyes. Of course, I have a new guard. At least this one is my age. He’s tall, and you can definitely see Ben has been making them hit the gym, hard. Lean, but with broad shoulders and strong arms. Actually, he’s not bad looking. Slightly curly brown hair, (almost too long for regulation) and a strong jaw meeting well-defined collarbones. Flicking my gaze to his face, I see his eyes. Perfect green eyes. Mossy and inviting, with a hint of a dark ocean blue. Finding my guard good-looking is probably not the best, but if anything happened, Benard would have no trouble replacing him. He probably has ten in line behind him already.

I’m not surprised by all the added security, but it feels excessive. I know Ben feels responsible for my parents’ death but keeping me locked up like a Faberge egg isn’t going to bring them back. He was so close with my dad. You’d almost thought they were brothers. That caring relationship definitely lapped over to me, as Ben was always there when I needed him. I don’t think a personal guard would save me if they decided to strike again. My parents had been taken in their sleep, in the middle of the night, from a part of the castle that only the royal family is supposed to be able to get into. Security and locks line the walls, but they still snuck in, drawn to the blood beating in their hearts.

Blood is very important to our culture, explaining why, when killing my parents, their executioner made sure the blood was the most memorable part. Everyone’s blood is a different color, from snow-white to ashy gray, to the deadly, foreboding black. Blood color is based on morals, good and bad deeds. If one lies, your blood adds a drop of gray into the stream. Something bigger, like stealing, knocks one down a whole shade. But black? Black can only come from death. A permanent mark of one’s blatant disregard of human life; the greatest gift of all.

This system of shades and colors has been around for a long time, but not forever. A hundred of years ago, Avenlie was but a small town, and we were starving. The full world was starving. The nannies say we were being punished by the gods for our sins. No crops would grow, the rivers were dry. This went on for years. The young died and the old suffered through life, living off scraps and odd twigs. And then my great, great, great, great, bunch of greats, grandmother had a baby. And she fell in love. He was her light in the dark and a blanket in a cold room. She hated seeing him suffer like she was, hated seeing his tears and hearing his cries. She would have done anything to save him from that starving world.

On his first birthday, he got really sick—sleepy, and sick. Avenlie wasn’t stupid; she knew he was dying. So, she left him with the town nana and climbed into the mountains with nothing but a knife. She stayed there for five days, drank from the rain, and ate what the gods provided her: small berries and stray acorns. She prayed. Day and night, every moment she was awake she prayed. She wanted him to smile at the sun and laugh with his love. Every plea was for her son’s safety, a world he could thrive in. And then she took her knife and emptied every ounce of her own blood into that mountain. She looked to the gods, told them how much she loved her son, and proved it. She sacrificed herself for her son, and it wouldn’t go to waste.

When the townspeople went to find Avenlie, they found a pool of crystal white, blood. After that day, the rain was plentiful, and the crops flourished. The people were happy and healthy for the first time in centuries. But there was another change too. Blood was no longer red but came in thousands of different shades. People quickly learned that there was a system, as described before, and we’ve been living by this ever since. There’s no rule against dark blood, people just like to try and keep it light. One might not go to jail, but if someone sees you with a cut, and it’s as dark as charcoal, that person might not be able to find a job. If it was dark enough, there would be no funeral when one died. Of course, black is different. The fact that you can only get blood that dark from murder means if they’re found with it, they’ll be executed.

* * *

“Good morning, your majesty,” Dakota announces as he slips into the room. God, how is he so awake all the time?

“You don’t have to call me that, you know. You are my ‘personal’ guard after all. You should call me by my name.”

“But there’s another in the castle with the name Charlotte.” He’s got to be kidding. I’m the queen, and he’s worried about mixing me up with a maid? “Do you have a nickname?

Oh, God. Nicknames. I’ve had hundreds, none of them that I like. They’re always either something about burnt wood or boy names. Charcoal, Chase, Carl, Charlie. I hate them all. And they’ve only ever come from bullies.

“No, I don’t have a nickname,” I say as coldly as I can, hoping he gets the hint and drops it. But instead of dropping it, his face lights up like a little kid getting cake.

“Great, I can give you your first one!” I hate the idea, but… he’s kind of cute when he smiles. I guess it won’t be that bad. “How about Char?”

“Uggggghhhhhhhhhhh. Fine. But I get to give you one too; it’s only fair.”

“Yeah, that makes sense. But my name doesn’t have lots of options.” I look at his face, trying to figure out what kind of person he is, what would fit with his personality.

“What about Kota?”

* * *

Kota has been assigned to me for two months, and I’ve gotten to depend on his company. I know I’m supposed to hate having a personal guard, someone always in my business, but I’ve actually begun to really like it. It’s like having a built-in friend. Every bad day starts with his warm smile and ends with him telling me goodnight. We’re together all the time, not either of our choices, but it’s not terrible. Our conversations are nice, and not covered in the sticky sucking up. It feels good, a breath of fresh air from everyone trying to kiss my ass.

Today is a beautiful fall day and the leaves are beginning to change to light orange, so I’ve decided we’re going riding. I know Kota can ride a horse just fine, but I’m definitely better, and I like to be better than him at some things. Over the last few months, I’ve realized that even though he’s not outright about it, Dakota is very proud. It’s not very hard to spot once you’re looking for it, but it’s not necessarily a bad thing. He is quite good at most things. The first time I noticed it was during an archery lesson. He watched me shoot ONE time and decided he needed to fix my entire form. Like the knight in shining armor he is, he gladly twisted my shoulders and tweaked my hand placement for thirty minutes before letting me shoot again. I swear, by the end of it, I was holding the bow the same as before.

The stables are beginning to adopt the smell of crisp winter, even with it only being October. I go to get my saddle and tack but realize Artemis is already waiting for me. I guess Kota got here before me. Furthermore, I love Artemis; she’s a beautifully spotted gray with smoky ears and has been with me for years, but she is one of my more calm and steady horses. Of course, he picked her. That’s fine, though, I wasn’t planning on racing anyone today. I honestly just want to enjoy the warmth of fall before winter sets its cold gaze on us. I lead Artemis out to the pasture and find Kota with his own horse, Jack; I know, what a dumb name for a horse. Jack is also more of a calm horse, but I think that’s all Dakota can handle. Kicking myself over Artemis and into my saddle, I trot over to my guard and his light brown horse.

“Finally, I thought I’d be waiting till dinner,” Kota teases. Kicking himself onto Jack, he asks where the destination is, and I simply tell him to keep up.

We reach an apple orchard after ten minutes of sweeping hills and a small stream filled with colorful rocks. It’s the perfect place for a picnic. I lead Artemis to a small tree and jump down into the dry grass, tying her to a low branch. Jake and Kota trot in behind me, and he follows suit, leaving both our horses to munch on the late summer grass.

“I knew you’d be hungry, so I got you a picnic. Surprise!” I pull out the standard checkered blanket and begin setting up a spread of cheese and crackers, before realizing I forgot the fruit. A fall picnic is not right without fruit. Good thing we’re in an apple orchard.

“Hey, Kota, can you help me. I need to pick a few apples. Just lift me up to that branch.”

“How are you planning on staying up there, you have the balance of a drunk two-year-old.”

“Ha-ha, very funny, now just help me.” He pushes me up to the branches, but as I place my foot down, I feel it slip. Why is he always right? I feel gravity taking control, but just before hitting the ground, I’m caught. And then we’re both falling.

Soft grass tickles my neck and his hands are on my waist. They’re softer than I expected, but just as strong. A sweet breeze brushes past my cheek and I look up at Kota. It feels nice to be together. I feel saner. Looking into his emerald eyes, I can almost see a normal life for us. A small yellow house with three kids, a pleasant dog, and long summer nights on the porch. But, no matter how much I long to wake up to his face and have his lips on my own, I’ve always known I won’t. Kota is my guard, and now that my parents are dead, it’s even more important that if I marry, it’s for power and stability. Not love. That being said, the heart is a naughty creature and always wants what it can’t have. I’ve been sitting in his arms staring at him for way too long. I quickly contain myself and jump up, brushing off my dress.

“Ha-ha, sorry, I guess you were right,” I blabber out. He looks a little sad but turns back to getting our picnic. The rest of our lunch goes smoothly, but I can’t help but feel he’s disappointed in me, for whatever reason.

* * *

I think I’ve spent every minute I’m awake with him. Four months of constant flirting and teasing mixed with a deep understanding of my responsibility to our kingdom and the instability of our relationship have created a bond no one person could break. I’ve come to understand the day in the orchard could have been a kiss, but it was the start of something, nonetheless. Sir Benard found me the other night, sneaking out from a late night with Dakota. He wasn’t happy, but not as a guard, as someone who loves me. I’ve always admired that about him. He didn’t treat me as a spoiled and weak girl he had to protect; he treated me like a daughter. Like he wanted to keep me safe. And that includes not going after my guards, I guess. He can’t do anything to stop me, I’m literally his boss, but he definitely gave me, “a talk.” “Stay away from him”, “you’re going to get hurt”, blah blah blah. He should know it’s too late. Winter has moved in, and so has love for Kota in my heart.

* * *

Young love is grown with secrecy
bottle-fed with hushed giggles
and gets fat on love poems signed by “your secret admirer“

his smile looks so much sweeter when it’s hiding nights alone
sneaking around with only the moon to tell our story
wrapped in each other’s arms and the lies we tell
tumbling through soft blankets and slipping through cracks in our stories

praying no one finds out
but hoping they wonder

a glance just for me
the touch of intimacy I feel from across the room
sly glances feel like slick fingers dragging down my skin
and I know we’ll never be the same again

* * *

It’s late. Too late to be awake. But I am awake, and I can’t fall back asleep. I had been woken from a terrible dream; a dream I have quite often. It’s already spring, and the kingdom has moved on, but I’m stuck. Stuck on that night. It starts the same every time, sitting at breakfast with my parents, happy, but it has multiple different endings. They always end up dying, but it’s the person that kills them that changes. Sometimes it’s a guard; once in a while, it’s Dakota; occasionally, a black splotch of a man with no face, and sometimes, most terrifyingly, it’s me. A knife in my hand, sliding it across my own mother’s wrist. Tonight, wasn’t so bad, it had been one of the cooks that did them in. Either way, it hit a little too hard, and I couldn’t bring myself to sleep.

Sitting up from my blankets, I throw on a light pink robe and head for the door. I don’t know exactly where I was planning on going, but after an hour of wandering, I found myself in the guard’s quarters. I’m not supposed to be in this section, but now that I’m queen, I technically can go anywhere. Stepping up to familiar room nine, I knock. He must have already been awake because he got to the door in less than a minute. And there he was. Hair messed up from his pillow, no shirt, and in boxers. He has a superb body. He must have seen my eye line to his chest because he promptly blushed and slammed the door. How rude. A few seconds later, the door opened again and there was a more awake Dakota standing before me. Sadly, he also had on more clothes.

“Hi, Char. Are you okay?”

“Yeah, I’m fine, just couldn’t sleep.”

“Yeah… me neither, actually,” I know him so well. I ducked beneath his arm resting on the door and darted into his room. Before I could make it all the way in, though, he grabbed me by the waist like an over-excited kid being held back from candy. Again, how rude. I whipped my head around, planning on bitching him out, but instead, I’m caught in his eyes. I could feel my heart beating too fast, and before I could react, he kissed me. He kissed me and I think my heart exploded. It’s everything I’ve dreamed it would be since the day in the orchard. Twisting my hands up into his hair, I kissed him again. And again. I didn’t want the moment to end, and I think we both realized this could be our only moment like this. I back into his room so he can close the door, but instead, bump into the bed. Unfortunately, he had been awake and was working out. Weights crash to the ground, indefinitely waiting for the entire barracks. I turn to find a place to hide, but a short knife covered in light gray blood catches my eye.

“Dakota, what is that?” My voice trembles as I ask him. I step back with fear in my eyes and within seconds I’m surrounded by guards. His hands are bound, and the guard turns to me for orders. As I’m opening my mouth, Sir Benard finally tumbles into the chaos. The scene is laid out before him, and his face darkens with realization.

“Charlotte, what do you want to do?” His voice is so dark. Pulled down with the loss of a friend and worry about me. The knife that killed my parents is lying on the floor. Shouldn’t someone pick that up?

“Execute him.”

* * *

Sitting in your bones and leaking into your heart
Poisoning thoughts
Why did you do it?
Did they cry?
Did it hurt?
Did it hurt you to hear them scream for mercy?

Blood on your hands, trailing into your thoughts
Poising dreams
Did you think before you did it?
Slit their throats

They’re guilty
I am not guilty
I am a savior
Saving us from them
From their dark blood
WE will be washed of our sins with their blood

Maybe you’re crazy
Maybe you’re just guilty.

* * *

The sun kisses my face as I turn to the sky. A soft summer breeze brushes my cheek and the grass is warm. After six months of grieving and screaming for justice, they finally did it. They found him. The one guilty of their deaths. Dakota is crying, I can hear him calling out for me. We’re in love, I know. It’s not right, of course, but we are in love. I feel him coursing through my veins, his face lights up my heavy heart. But it’s not right. The late nights and stolen kisses. Innocent glances drenched in remorse. Even on the site of my parents’ death, he tries to defend himself. But it’s too late for him. The people have called him guilty and no one can save him. No one but me.

My throne is waiting for me as I glide up the stairs in my heavy white dress. White again. It’s the second and last time I will be wearing this symbolic color. The lace arms trailing down to the ground make me look shorter than I am, but the slender bodice fitted to my hips balances it out. A ball gown matched with a black veil over my crown. It’s tradition for the monarch to wear black at an execution. I’m wearing mom’s ruby earrings, elegant silver drops that create the whisper of the long-gone red blood of our ancestors. My hair is done, held up by a splash of silver twists made to match the earrings. I look beautiful; I look like my mom.


My nickname on his lips. It sounds as sweet as honey, rich like expensive wine. Something I hate so much is the epitome of elegance and young love coming from his mouth. My heart breaks when I turn to him, seeing the strong man I love crumbled on the floor.

“Please. Help me!”

Poor Kota. Suffering for the sins of the world.

My parents are dead, and they say he’s guilty. How could I have fallen for someone I needed so badly to stay away from. It is all my fault, and now the one person I could love is being punished. Sweet memories are now smeared with guilt and rot. Rotting under the truth and the fact no one can ever know it.

A knife drenched in gray blood. Taunting me every day with what I’d done. Stashed under floorboards, it snuck into my dreams, seasoned my breakfast with sin, and coated my brain with remorse. I kept it in my room for months, debating what to do with it. I kicked out the maids so they wouldn’t find it, but I knew I had to pick a target. I wasn’t supposed to fall in love with Dakota. And I didn’t think I would be able to go through with framing him. I don’t know if I can. My kingdom needs me to be strong, but I can’t. I need him. Please, God, no, I need him. I jump up from my throne, crashing through my guards. My dress is too heavy as I stumble down the stairs. My heels are too high. No, I can make it.


Angelic white blood seeps onto the floor.

It’s over. He’s gone. Gone with my heart. My lungs don’t want to work. My heart stopped beating. Everything is quiet for a second. The calm of pure dread in my soul. Gripping my heart are the cold fingers of a familiar friend. And then Chaos erupts in the square. Voices become a thrill in my ears and people shove to get to the ground. Everyone can see the white blood, but they still fight to get to the source. The man “responsible” for the deaths of the king and queen cannot have white blood; they got it wrong. The air is too heavy, and my head starts to spin. Things are getting fuzzy, I’m passing out. The ground is soft beneath me, sinking like quicksand, or maybe it’s my bones; cracking and splintering as I try to stand. Stabbing my esophagus and making it impossible to breathe. Dirt in my hands. When’s the last time I touched real dirt? The picnic. I grind it into my palms, desperate to turn my feelings back on and grasp a small piece of reality.

Small gasps
shallow breath
Quick thoughts
and a dead heart

A bleeding arm
split on the edge of a noble guard’s sword
tumbling to get to my love
I didn’t feel the slice
but I couldn’t have ignored the blood
So different from his white
holding the sins of my world
and the crimes of his sentence

the angel is dead
and the devil is guilty

I could have taken responsibility
taken the guilt
I could have just not done it
stayed asleep that night
left the knife under the floorboards
and the hate in my heart

Maybe I shouldn’t have killed them.
But maybe they shouldn’t have made it so easy.

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